Thursday, February 28, 2013

Here's the Ticket: More Surprising and Unpredictable High Stakes Tests

Kathleen Porter-Magee:

  1. The greater the consequence we attach to test results, the less “predictable” the questions need to be. If we’re going to attach high stakes to tests, we need to make it hard to predict how to narrow their curriculum to the “tested” content at the expense of the full range of knowledge and skills laid out in the standards.
  2. The greater the consequence we attach to evaluations, the more we need to diversify the indicators. We need to balance numerical data with other information, including qualitative data—which paints a clearer picture of how well a school is doing and how much or how little its students are learning.
  3. The more we focus on accountability with consequences, the more we need to independently check the data. States could, for instance, invest in inspectorates whose focus is on site visits and other measures that could serve as a “reality check” on the data.

One of the less-emphasized "shifts" of the Common Core ELA is to narrow the scope of the curriculum to make it easier to test the whole thing, although the purity of the initial design was compromised somewhat in the final implementation. But if you look at a standard like this one:

Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.

The first thing you have to point out it is very strange compared to the way standards are generally written, especially outside the US. It is a tight little lump of content (e.g., not late 20th century, how many 18th century foundational works are there?) entangled with a specific task. I think the explanation for this is to make it clear at the level of the standards itself that this is supposed to spawn a very specific and predictable assessment. A predictable assessment which cannot be criticized for narrowing the curriculum because the standards are doing the narrowing work.

Regardless, predictability and reliability is not something that can just be wished away. It seems like an easy question until you listen to experts talk about it for about 10 minutes, and then you realize what a nightmare it truly is. If every five years you throw in a 18th century question for the above standard and everyone's scores that year go down 10 points, exactly what have you measured? Especially in a "high stakes" context? Throwing more surprises into higher stakes tests is an idea only someone living in a wonk bubble could love.

Regarding Porter-Magee's second and third points, those are things that we used to do here, but stopped to follow the agenda of Porter-Magee, Fordham and their allies, so... maybe she would have preferred Linda Darling-Hammond as Secretary of Education?

How's That Career Ladder Working Out?

Apparently PPSD teacher leaders deciding to go back to just being teachers is a trending meme.

All Children Can Learn to Double Clutch

Rick Richards:

"I am not opposed to a proficiency graduation test, but I do believe it is important enough to do right,” he said. “The NECAP was not designed and the partially proficient standard was not set for this purpose.

People don't understand this concept, so here's an attempt at an analogy.

Let's say Rhode Island didn't have a test for new drivers, but we did have a test for truck drivers. Would it work to just give everyone the truck driver test but lower the passing score? It is all driving!

The Noisy Fisherman

I might as well clarify that the reason I entered my daughter in the AFPMA lottery was the only way I could figure out to force RIDE and... well, whomever speaks for AFPMA, which I now know is AF staff, to sit down with me and explain what their specific legal argument regarding mayoral academy enrollment actually is. Basically, that worked.

Now that I know that RIDE wrote up their legal opinion for RIMA last fall, of course, I could have just asked for that, but I didn't know that existed, and up until the meeting, nobody volunteered it (which would have saved them time). I could have tried to throw a broad FOIA request at RIDE, but that would have probably cost the RI taxpayer MORE money, and I still might have screwed it up.

At this point, the ball is in Blackstone Valley Prep's court. If I was a reporter I'd call them up and ask if they've changed their lottery this year in response to RIDE's advisory opinion (without telling anyone as far as I can tell) or if they have plans to do so. As it is, I'm just going to wait and see.

I know most people with whom I've discussed this overall issue regard it as a possibly interesting, but rather arcane issue, not really fitting into the overall anti-reform storyline. Those things are true, but what is also in question here is the cross-district enrollment policies of currently four and soon to be six schools which have a direct effect on the budgets of eight school departments, obviously directly and indirectly affecting thousands of families and in the long run, determining which towns and cities are going to be closing schools. So it is kind of a big deal.

If BVP goes off the reservation, fighting RIDE and undermining AFPMA, pass the popcorn.

RIDE's opinion is here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

If Districts Fought Back...

...PPSD would have put out a press release last week listing the number of parents who chose various Providence elementary schools in their enrollment forms. Did you know that eleven PPSD elementary schools had programs that filled up in the first round of enrollment last year? Sounds like we need more PPSD elementary schools!

Instead, in case you were wondering, here's how AFPMA was included on this year's PPSDenrollment form:

So keep in mind when you hear about the number of AFPMA "applications," most of those people also "applied" for four PPSD schools at the same time.

Nice use of red and green, as well.

Sequestration for Diplomas

Paul Spetrini:

A pair of bills (H-5277 and S-177) that would eliminate the requirement will be heard in front of the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee this afternoon and a number of prominent political groups in the state—including the RI ACLU, RI Legal Services, Young Voices and the RI Disability Law Center, are urging the legislation get approved.

“"The news of these scores across Rhode Island is sad,” said Rick Richards, a retired employee of RIDE's Offices of Testing, School Improvement and School Transformation. “It is very scary for students, parents and our society, but it is not at all surprising. With 40 percent of the 11th graders in danger of not graduating, every parent in this state has to know that this way of determining graduation can put their child in danger. And, as parents think this over, they should realize that, in a very real sense, this is a crisis manufactured by policy makers at RIDE.”

I confess I've under-emphasized this issue, but it just seems like high-stakes kabuki to me. Of course, it is extremely important that the right people rise to do their side of the kabuki, and I thank them for it.

I don't think Deb Gist really wants to see her graduation rates go down, so getting rid of this is truly a win-win.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

So It Turns Out RIDE Thinks BVP's Lottery was Illegal All Along

So the big reveal from today's pre-hearing meeting (I knew there had to be one) was that RIMA requested an opinion from RIDE last April regarding the legality of various lottery systems which might apply to mayoral academies, including the one they've used all along, offering an equal number of enrollments to students from each sending district.

RIDE's opinion from Acting-Commissioner David Abbott was that any system that required multiple lotteries was not in compliance with the law. This hinges on the mayoral academy law calling for "a lottery," interpreted as singular. This, in RIDE's mind, trumps the requirement to "offer an equal number of enrollments to students on a lottery basis."

Linguistically, I'm dubious about the significance placed on the singular nature of "lottery," as one can still run a lottery that has multiple games (e.g., the Rhode Island Lottery). Also, it doesn't explain what "offer an equal number of enrollments to students" is supposed to mean.

Beyond that, every shred of evidence I've found regarding the intent of the law is consistent with offering and equal number of enrollments to each sending community, or at least split between urban/non-urban equally, up to and including Jeremy Chiappetta's blog post from November:

...the innovative Rhode Island Mayoral Academy model, whereby Rhode Island statute requires that half of the Mayoral Academy seats are offered to urban students and half to non-urban students.

This suggests BVP is not too concerned about RIDE's "advisory in nature and not binding" legal opinion. Now that we know the opinion exists, I imagine it will be a hot topic when BVP's charter comes up for renewal. Might save Lincoln a lot of money, given that early last February BVP's application breakdown was 50% Pawtucket; 23% Central Falls; 23% Cumberland; 4% Lincoln. Pawtucket, on the other hand, may go broke.

In the meantime, we'll see how this year's lotteries go.

The opinion is here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Everything is Always Getting Worse for Open Source in Education

Katie Ash:

But as companies make such moves, experts contend that the definition of what constitutes "open" is changing. And in some cases, companies are using the term in products that are not actually open source to capitalize on the popularity of the concept.

"There are multiple definitions of open that are confusing buyers and watering down the message," says Philip D. Hill, the ed-tech consultant, analyst, and co-founder of MindWires Consulting. Hill has been following LMS companies for more than eight years and writes about developments in that market on the e-Literate blog.

The only example of this I see is Pearson naming something "OpenClass," but you can't trademark "Open-(anything)" so that's going to happen. Otherwise, Moodle is still GPL, Canvas is the even stricter AGPL.

"The users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software," which was the goal all along.

One Useful Point from the MET Study

Thomas Kane:

While the mean score was higher on the days that the teachers chose to submit, once you corrected for measurement error, a teacher’s score on their chosen videos and on their unchosen videos were correlated at 1. They were perfectly correlated. The people who struggled on the lessons they’re willing to submit are also the people struggling on the lessons they didn’t submit. The best lesson from the best teacher is that much higher than the best lesson from the worst teacher. The order is preserved even if the mean rises.

That has huge implications, because it means that the element of surprise may not be that important. That contributes a huge degree of anxiety, to have observers be able to pop in whenever they like. Give them a camera and say, “Submit four to five lessons you’re particularly proud of.” I think that would remove some of the anxiety that made this hard, and in the process would have all sorts of other benefits. It would allow principals to time-shift. It would make it easier to get people outside the school involved in education. D.C. spends a lot to get those master educators to drive around to schools. If you could do this video-based thing, and still have them sit down with a teacher one on one to discuss these three or four lessons they submitted, rather than go out there physically, I just think it’d be a more efficient way to do it.

Less expensive, less anxiety, same results. What's not to like? The next thing they're going to discover is that if scores are stable over time you don't need to evaluate veteran teachers every year.

What's the Mechanism by which Having a Good Teacher Turns into a 1% Income Gain?

Kevin Drum asks whether the estimated 1% subsequent income gain for a student from having a bottom 5% teacher measured by VAM replaced with an average one sounds like a surprisingly big or small effect.

I think it is a pretty small effect, but seems about right intuitively. What's impressive is that they could tease it out statistically at all.

I've wondered about by what mechanism this difference actually occurrs, though. My guess is that for the vast majority of students there is no effect at all but for some children a good or bad teacher would cause them to be sorted into a higher or lower path, particularly in math, and in the case of the higher path, having the necessary skills to be successful on that path. That could result in a much more than a 1% difference in income, for the 1 kid in 10, say, who would end up going to college because he was bumped out of the remedial math group in third grade, which would then average out as a 1% difference over the entire sample.

I'm neither sufficiently curious nor conversant in statistics to try to figure out if they observed that distribution.

Update on My Complaint

I've been bouncing emails back and forth with the RIDE legal department trying to set up at least a pre-hearing meeting concerning my complaint prior to the scheduled AFPMA lottery date (which I believe is Friday). The scheduling has gotten a little more complicated because RIMA and RIDE want in on the meeting too. It should be interesting to say the least.

This is Actually my Wife's Best Friend from College

Emma Brown:

When Capitol Hill mom E.V. Downey went into business as an education consultant, she thought she’d cater to parents angling for advice on admission to private schools.

Instead, almost all of her clients are clamoring for help getting their children into a good D.C. public school. ...

Downey used to work as the admissions director for a private boys’ school in Washington until, seeking more flexible hours, she started her own business in 2011. (Her husband, Charles T. Downey, is a high school teacher who writes freelance music reviews for The Washington Post.)

Full disclosure: I got Chuck started blogging, leading to his moonlighting as a freelance art critic.


Race and class are two issues that simmer in the background — and occasionally burst to the forefront — of her conversations with parents. Downey steers parents away from schools that focus on teaching poor children, for example, saying that even top-ranked and much-lauded schools — such as KIPP DC and D.C. Prep — “wouldn’t feel like a very good fit” for a middle-class family.

Hodges, the recent D.C. transplant, told Downey and the other women in her seminar that she wouldn’t want her son to be in a school filled only with other white children, but that she also wouldn’t be comfortable in a neighborhood school where her son might be the only white child.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Soupy, Week 1

Week 1

After hanging in Rick's garage for a week, our soupy are looking (and starting to smell) good. The temperature up there was 38 degrees, as it probably was most of the week. The humidity in the rafters was 64%, which is actually a lot less dry than I would have guessed, and good news because the main threat now is the drying process outpacing the curing reactions (slowed by the cold). I gave them a light spritzing with water to keep the casings supple for the third time.

My two test sausages have lost about 12% of their weight through drying, which seems like a lot since a 30% reduction is the "done" target, but the rate of water loss slows a lot. They start out pretty much dripping.

How Much is a x7 Payback Over the Life of a Person?

I'm a bit surprised by the sudden and apparently broad concern in the rigor of educational research cited by the President in his State of the Union speech, considering the extreme flimsiness of the scant research backing his first term agenda.

One issue is just trying to keep some perspective on the nature of a claim about benefits spread over the life of a child. Saying a $19,000 investment in high-quality pre-school can save the government seven times that over the life of a child is not that dramatic. If the government put $20,000 in a savings account paying 5% interest, 40 years later they'd have $140,000 (at least according to this thing).

Or, put another way, if you divide $140,000 over 40 years, you're talking about $3,500 a year per person in increased tax income, and especially decreased public services. If you have two kids who qualify for free lunch, you're talking $1000 of government expense right there per year for 13 years. If pre-school helps bump you clear of poverty -- even if you didn't go to college -- the dollars add up quickly.

Obviously keeping one person out of the 0.7% of our population that we imprison pays for many, many others who see no measurable effect.

Also, the studies this x7 number comes from are from actual observation of the life outcomes of students over 40 years. Even though the samples are small, I'll take that over the bullshit extrapolations of a couple years of test scores we've been handed lately.

Finally, pointing out that this only works with quality child care which we can't afford misses the whole point, which is you really can afford the more expensive child care because it is a good investment.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Hopefully Not the Future of Educational Data

Fred Clark:

Yes, credit records are filled with incorrect information, but those are not “errors.” That’s the business model of the credit-rating agencies. They don’t want accurate information. If they used accurate information, they would have no basis for shaking down consumers through various “protection” plans and “free” (not free) credit report services.

I'm sure Rupert Murdoch would never try something like that.

Back with More Differences!

Ed Week:

Bridging Differences will return Tuesday, Feb. 26, with the first post from Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution. Deborah Meier will reply later in the week.

When Technological Change Suits the Purposes of Enemies Looking to Put a Knife in Your Back

Andrew Leonard:

After some reflection, it’s become clear to me that there is a crucial difference in how the Internet’s remaking of higher education is qualitatively different than what we’ve seen with recorded music and newspapers. There’s a political context to the transformation. Higher education is in crisis because costs are rising at the same time that public funding support is falling. That decline in public support is no accident. Conservatives don’t like big government and they don’t like taxes, and increasingly, they don’t even like the entire way that the humanities are taught in the United States.

It’s absolutely no accident that in Texas, Florida and Wisconsin, three of the most conservative governors in the country are leading the push to incorporate MOOCs in university curricula. And it seems well worth asking whether the apostles of disruption who have been warning academics that everything is about to change have paid enough attention to how the intersection of politics and MOOCs is affecting the speed and intensity of that change. Imagine if Napster had had the backing of the Heritage Foundation and House Republicans? It’s hard enough to survive chaotic disruption when it is a pure consequence of technological change. But when technological change suits the purposes of enemies looking to put a knife in your back, it’s almost impossible.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

This American Life on Harper High School in Chicago

I'm a bit surprised there hasn't been more buzz about This American Life's two episode profile of Harper High School in Chicago where "last year alone 29 current and recent students were shot." It is, as you might expect, gripping and heart-wrenching.

I particularly recommend the first part, which provides some explanation of the overall situation in Chicago, which can be baffling to even those of us who understand other American cities fairly well. What is happening there that isn't happening elsewhere (yet?)?

In short (as TAL explains it, at least), the structure and leadership of their street gangs has been disrupted and what has replaced it is more decentralized, chaotic, and all-encompassing.

It Isn't a Conspiracy if Everyone Knows About It

Tom Aswell:

Copies of emails released to LouisianaVoice by the Department of Education (DOE) under threat of litigation reveal an agency over which there is little or no oversight, where escalating costs of expensive programs appear to be of no concern to administrators and a department that appears to be flailing about in search of some direction.

The electronic communications also unveil a cozy relationship between DOE, Rupert Murdoch and his company, News Corp., which apparently will be provided personal information on Louisiana public school students for use by a company affiliated with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

News Corp. is the parent company of Fox News Network. In 2011, News Corp. was implicated in a major phone hacking scandal in which private telephone records were compromised.

Despite the relationship with a national news organization, the emails also reveal a decision by DOE and Dave “Lefty” Lefkowith, director of the Office of Portfolio, to “forget” about communicating with the media or public about departmental plans to launch the DOE’s Course Choice program next month.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Now I Know Why I Can't Wait for Google Glass

I found this new commercial to be even less convincing than I expected:

Then I realized, "Oh man, does this mean I'll be able to go to a rock and roll show and not have a sea of phone displays hovering outstretched between me and the band?" That would be awesome.

SchoolTool Feature on


In 2005, Arlington Career Center teacher David Welsh had an unmanageable list of 77 Video and Media Technology competencies to evaluate for each student in his classes. A Yorktown High School computer science teacher Jeff Elkner was teaching his students to program in Python and bursting with enthusiasm for engaging students and teachers in open source processes. I had a new job leading the SchoolTool project with a charge from entrepreneur and philanthropist Mark Shuttleworth to create open source administrative software for schools around the world.

I let them make up the title, which is inappropriately buzz-wordy, but then again, that's why I let other people make up titles, so they can throw in catchy buzz words I can't bring myself to.

Clearly, the Only Problem Here is Seniority

Paul Bruno:

Last week I received a letter from human resources informing me that I cannot count on having a job for the 2013-2014 school year. Though the details may vary somewhat from district to district, the general reason for this job insecurity will be familiar to many teachers.

As my letter from HR helpfully explains, districts are often unable to predict with certainty exactly how many teaching positions they will have to fill in the following school year. Some teachers may retire or resign, but positions may also be cut for various reasons and in that event teachers with more seniority in the district can have "first pick" of the positions that remain. (My previous tenure in the Oakland Unified School District grants me no job security here.)

Of course, the larger question is why is his school district laying off teachers at all?

I'm sure it was just a coincidence that the next article in my news reader was this one:

The Sacramento school board is rushing to shut down 11 elementary schools. That’s 20 percent of the elementary schools run by the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Those layoffs aren't caused by acts of God, the weather, and probably not declining population.

Also, even if you think that districts should be basing these decisions on evaluations and test scores, should we also expect those to be done by the end of January every year?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Soupy, Two Days In

2 days in.

Looking pretty good... the garage is just warm enough that I don't think it'll freeze.

I Leave Comments

Me, in comments:

This story is exasperating to some of us in Providence who remember that as recently as five years ago, the PPSD had a whole school, Feinstein High School, graduating students solely on what is now called "competency-based" assessment. As Tom Brady's administration arrived in the PPSD, including the above mentioned Paula Shannon, and Deborah Gist took over at RIDE, this program was aggressively attacked.

Suddenly, graduation had to be based on credit hours, not demonstration of skills. Every school had to offer the same courses. The each course had to be based on a horizontally and vertically aligned guaranteed and viable curriculum. Regulation of the high school curriculum increased dramatically.

In 2010, the same year Feinstein High School registered the highest 11th grade NECAP reading scores that any PPSD high school achieved before or since, RIDE named the school "persistently low performing," and the PPSD declared its building inadequate and closed the school. Following the current pattern, a new charter school happily opened in the building the following year.

If this kind of teaching and learning is what the PPSD and RIDE had in mind all along, they could have saved themselves and many students, parents, and teachers a lot of time, energy and grief by simply maintaining and supporting existing programs.

Of course, one might bring up The Met in Providence as well.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Making Soupy: a RI (and PA!) Tradition

Lurch, XXX, and Lurch's Father-in-Law

Rick "Lurch" Pryor, Andy "XXX" Nasef, Rick's father-in-law, Richard, (pictured above, left to right) and I ("The Professor"), undertook the Southwestern RI tradition of making "soupy," the local variation of Soppressata.

It was brought by Calabrian stone cutters drawn to the quarries around Westerly, RI, and, I discovered, to the anthracite coal mines of Central Pennsylvania about 100 miles east of where I grew up. Appropriately, even in the internet age, the two soupy (or soupie) communities are barely aware of the other's existence. Based on the evidence on the internet, it seems to be a bit bigger in Pennsylvania. I told some full-blooded Italian friends from Cranston and Warwick that I was making soupy, and they had no idea what I was talking about.

Stuffing Soupy

Andy learned about making soupy not from his family (being Lebanese-Irish), but friends from Westerly, and has made it for years. This year Andy was the only experienced soupy-maker in our group. I brought my own book-larning and highfalutin' ideas. Richard, it turned out, had a long, distinguished, and colorful history in food service spanning from Woodstock, New York in the 70's to submarine bases. Rick provided muscle and his garage, which made an excellent production line.

We ordered the ground pork and stendines, as Andy called them in the original Calabrese for “intestines," from Westerly Packing. We are a getting a bit of a late start in the soupy season due to busy schedules and weather; it is traditionally a mid-winter operation.

Tray of soupy.

Andy made his traditional recipe with only pork, salt, black and red pepper, and paprika. Paprika seems to be "traditional" to US soupy but not Italian soppressata. Mine were based on Polcyn and Ruhlman's soppressata recipe, minus the garlic and plus a large dose of smoked Spanish paprika, and including such heresies as sodium nitrate, dried milk powder and a bacteria starter culture. Rick and Richard's batches had a little of both.

Andy hanging Soupy.

The day-long process went smoothly on the whole. Rick's unheated garage was a perfect meat locker. The thing I'm worried about now is that it is much colder in there now than it ought to be for curing and drying. An unheated basement or attic gives you a more moderate environment, but Andy has used garages before successfully. His recipe is heavily salted and should be pretty fault-tolerant. I'm not sure if any of my little bacteria will survive, or if they'll successfully go dormant again and wake back up when it is a little warmer, or for that matter whether mine will freeze solid an burst their casings due to having a higher water content. We're pretty much at the mercy of the weather and local micro (and macro) flora and fauna.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Hanging soupy

Friday, February 15, 2013

That Particular Feature Doesn't Work Unless the Perpetual Motion Drive is Also Engaged

John Broder:

I was given battery-conservation advice at that time (turn off the cruise control; alternately slow down and speed up to take advantage of regenerative braking) that was later contradicted by other Tesla personnel.

Whatever else we've learned from this dustup, the Times' energy reporter (and at least one Tesla employee) apparently has a tenuous grasp on thermodynamics.

Update on David Welsh

I should post an update on my friend David Welsh, who was in a severe car to pedestrian accident a little over three weeks ago.

David is, miraculously, alive and out of intensive care, and will not require any surgeries. He's now beginning what will be a long and difficult process of therapy and recovery.

To quote the latest update from his family:

Each day, David becomes more aware of what happened to him and the injuries he's suffered; he realizes and talks about how he needs time to get mentally and physically strong. He's settling into his routine and is committed to his program for recovery (though he has many opinions about how things would be different if he were running the facility, the staff, the unit, the kitchen, etc.!)

So, David is traveling purposefully down his road. He will not be able to have visitors for the foreseeable future but he is very aware of the continuing love and support from all of you guys. We read your emails to him and talk about things you've said.

A week or so ago, not too long after David regained consciousness, we were telling him about how many of his friends and colleagues were sending messages of concern and encouragement. He said, "Those are good messages. I would send the same to them, that I love them."

Give 'em Hell, Elizabeth

Charlie Pierce:

Also yesterday, in her first appearance as a member of the Senate Banking Committee, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has been in the Senate for nearly an entire month, told a federal bank regulator:

"There are district attorneys and United States attorneys out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I'm really concerned that 'too big to fail' has become 'too big for trial."    

That is a two-rail shot from There's A New Sheriff In Town, Sparky to the pursuit of the late Aaron Swartz, whose memorial service Warren made a point of attending, in two very simple sentence. There's doing your business and there's doing our business, and that makes all the difference.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Chicken Soup with Dumplings


Previously. Previously.

Or You Could Read a Book

Andrew Leonard:

I barged into my son’s room on Wednesday afternoon to ask him when he wanted dinner, and discovered him watching a Khan Academy video to help with his chemistry homework. And I thought: that story I’ve been working on about the backlash against MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses)? Why am I even bothering? The war is already over. Debating the value of online education at the current moment in history makes about as much sense as questioning the tactics of the losing Roman generals in the great third century B.C. battle of Cannae. Perhaps of some interest to academics, but moot. Hannibal kicked ass. End of story.

The clear alternative scenario here is "My son was re-reading the chapter in his textbook to do his chemistry homework." If he can do that does he need to go to college? When did we decide that video was so much better than books?

I'm never going to have an intuitive feel for this particular thread because I'd rather just read. Video is slow, and to be honest I feel like a nerd watching any kind of video lecture in a way I never do reading. Do I really have nothing better to do than watch this person talking on my computer?

I would also note that our new, national K-12 educational policy is singularly focused on the importance of the reading option for college readiness, which is perhaps strange timing.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

inBloom, Ed-Fi, and Killing SIF

Data interoperability has been a problem in schools since the first district mainframe started chugging out report cards and first teacher started typing their quiz grades into Visicalc. For more than a decade, the "right" way to solve this problem was SIF, the Schools Interoperability Framework, which started out as an experiment by Microsoft into how one might manage integration using the then-new XML standard. As you might expect, they guessed wrong about what the best -- or at least most common and widely understood -- practices in this regard would end up being.

During my "open standards are inherently good" phase, I spent a lot of time on SIF, including writing an (incomplete and unfinished) open source SIF "zone integration server" in Python and generally promoting SIF to the global open source in education community (to no avail, probably justifiably). Finally I just washed my hands of the whole logjam, realizing it was going to take someone opening a very large wallet to fund a viable competitor to shove aside SIF to make any progress in this decidedly un-sexy area.

While I've been pointedly not paying attention, this has finally come to pass. First step, CES, the Common Educational Data standard, which is hosted by the federal Dept. of Ed, laid out a newly revised data model.

Next, Ed-Fi, funded by the Dell Foundation, added... I'm not sure what. Some interim layer between CES data and what follows...

The Big Kahuna is now known as inBloom (née Shared Learning Collaborative). inBloom encompasses several aspects, including, at least as I currently understand it:

  1. A well documented open source implementation of the preceding standards and a REST web services API based upon them. The lack of a free reference implementation was one of the things that crippled SIF. SIF couldn't do this because it became controlled by companies who were in the business of providing proprietary SIF solutions. inBloom will be controlled by content providers, who aren't going to let this potential gravy train be screwed up by a few chiseling little educational IT companies trying to squeeze pennies out of district tech budgets.
  2. The source code for a big repository for pretty much all the data relevant to teaching and learning in K-12 schools, along with various open source clients.
  3. The singular big repository for as much of the data relevant to student learning in the entire country as they can "ingest" as they like to put it.

Of these, it is #3 that people are justifiably freaking out about, particularly over the kind and amount of data which commercial vendors may be given access to.

Overall, this parallels the centralization on the internet which we've seen over the past 15 years. Nobody wants to run their own mail server or even try to keep a WordPress up to date, with good reason, nor do we have static IP addresses at home or even IPv6, so we just let Google (Amazon, etc.) handle it. This is pretty much the same idea, although I suppose your school district will still have its own student information system too. Or will it? That's a good question.

From SchoolTool's point of view, this is certainly worth keeping an eye on. When Steve Alexander sketched out his initial design for SchoolTool almost a decade ago, REST web service API's were very cutting edge, which is one of the things that attracted me to the project. Unfortunately, you get no benefit whatsoever for adopting an interoperability technique 10 years ahead of all the other applications you'd like to talk to, so REST web services support eventually dropped away in SchoolTool. At this point, I pretty regularly get questions about whether we have a web API to which I respond "Not really, is there one in particular that you'd like us to support?" which essentially is never answered. It seems like a waste of money to make one up ourselves (again) because I know as soon as we do it everyone will say "Oh, we can't use this, you should have implemented 'X'!" Perhaps inBloom will give us a useful standard to apply either as a client or even to mimic their server API. If this takes off, Virginia CTE at least will want CanDo to act as an inBloom client.

A few other random impressions:

  • This doesn't literally kill SIF, your SIF system will be able to talk to inBloom if you've already got that. SIF's not really going to grow after this point though.
  • There doesn't seem to be any major "gotchas" in the open source-ness of the project (like used to plague ed tech) although the server code is not yet available, the issue will be the legitimate difficulty of getting your own inBloom server running. There's a lot more to that kind of system than just the code, and even if they do a LOT of work to try to make it feasible, it will still probably be impractical to run yourself. On the other hand, it will be possible to do outside security audits, which should give people some solace.
  • This is the context that I've seen Common Core in -- it is actually a bigger project to align both technical and academic standards to create an efficient marketplace. The worst thing about the whole process is that we're implicitly simplifying our concept of "education" to make it fit this model. If you believe that the problem with American education is that we aren't delivering the correct market-tested and research-approved chunks of curriculum to individual students at the right time, this is awesome. I just don't think that's the problem.
  • When you read through something like this, you see why I've been so critical about all the discussion of the various curriculuar mandates in the Common Core appendices and commentary. This system is not going to care about how much fiction or non-fiction you've read this year, or if it is constructing an appropriately sequenced knowledge-based curriculum. It is going to serve up exactly what it thinks a student needs to raise his or her scores on the enumerated standards. There is no place in the data model for, "Also, too, suggestions from David Coleman and E.D. Hirsch."
  • Thanks to Dan Willingham for all the articles, but the data model does include an attribute for a student's learning styles, expressed as percentages weighted between three categories. This was not added by hippies.
  • I'm imagining a lot of advertising embedded in this process for teachers: our system recommends Pearson's ReadBlast 3000 for students with Timmy's profile! Talk to your curriculum coordinator today!

Finally, if history is a guide, this project will collapse under its own weight, so don't get too enthusiastic or paranoid.

Implications of Early Vocabulary Research

Sarah D. Sparks:

Ways of targeting vocabulary words have been evolving in the past decade, Mr. Shanahan said. Reading materials developed in the early 1990s tend to focus on the phonics of words, so the word "cat" might have been chosen to highlight the "-at" sound, rather than because educators need to teach children what the word means.

Mr. Shanahan said he believes the lack of vocabulary cohesion comes from the attempt to choose more difficult words from upcoming texts.

"It gets very tricky," he said. "The words aren't terribly important; they aren't words you'd really care if the children know or not. If the next story has a platypus in it, that's a hard word; we might as well teach it. ... We've managed to get publishers off 'cat,' but they've swung over to 'platypus.' "

I found this to be a particularly clear and informative article. Like most of the conversation swirling around all things Common Core, it is more appropriately aimed at textbook (etc) publishers than classroom teachers, and like most highly specific literacy research it is aimed at the early elementary grades. If you use the same approach to high school, I don't think it makes as much sense, nor is it as well backed by research.

Monday, February 11, 2013

I Endorse Atrios's Proposal to Increase Social Security Benefits by 20%


We need an across the board increase in Social Security retirement benefits of 20% or more. We need it to happen right now, even if that means raising taxes on high incomes or removing the salary cap in Social Security taxes.

Over the past few decades, employees fortunate enough to have employer-based retirement benefits have been shifted from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans. We are now seeing the results of that grand experiment, and they are frightening. Recent and near-retirees, the first major cohort of the 401(k) era, do not have nearly enough in retirement savings to even come close to maintaining their current lifestyles.

Frankly, that's an optimistic way of putting it. Let me be alarmist for a moment, because the fact is the numbers are truly alarming. We should be worried that large numbers of people nearing retirement will be unable to keep their homes or continue to pay their rent.

Who wouldn't pay a little more in taxes now to know that they and everyone they care about won't be living their final years in poverty if something goes horribly awry with their 401K?

Kludgeocracy: an Important Facet of School Reform

Steven M. Teles:

“Clumsy but temporarily effective” also describes much of American public policy. For any particular problem we have arrived at the most gerry-rigged, opaque and complicated response. From the mind-numbing complexity of the health care system (which has only gotten more complicated, if also more just, after the passage of Obamacare), our Byzantine system of funding higher education, and our bewildering federal-state system of governing everything from the welfare state to environmental regulation, America has chosen more indirect and incoherent policy mechanisms than any comparable country.

Race to the Top, SIG, NCLB waivers, charter expansion, etc. are all perfect examples of this unfortunate tendency.

If High-Stakes Testing Went Away Tomorrow

You can say "high-stakes academic testing isn't going away," but the fact of the matter is that for everyone except the companies that profit (or non-profit) from it, the world would keep turning just fine. Maybe a little better in some ways, a little worse in others, but it wasn't all that long ago we barely had high stakes testing in our schools, you don't have to be very old to have experienced that, and as far as your average person can tell, schools weren't even that different.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Stock Day 2

Stock day 2

Stock day 2

A hot cup of this with some leftover rice tastes pretty good after shoveling snow for a few hours.

Also, bonus hens:


Saturday, February 09, 2013

I Don't Want to Jinx It But...

We're right on he edge of the first "O" in "Elmwood." Last house on the street with power.

Late Night

Friday, February 08, 2013

Seemed Like a Good Night to Make Some Stock

Making stock.

Making stock.

Making stock.

Making stock.

That'll sit in a 275 degree oven all night. If the power goes out, we'll have soup!

Paul Cuffee Demonstrates Why You'd Be Crazy to Start a Charter High School in Providence Now

Paul Cuffee High School manages to re-create the glory days of the mid-aughts in Providence high school reform with their first 11th grade class NECAP proficiency rates: reading - 77%, math - 7%. Does that make it a success or a pariah? Who knows?

The Gist Track Record, Continued

When Deborah Gist arrived in Rhode Island in 2009, the gap in 11th grade reading scores between Providence and Central Falls and the rest of the state was closing. Following her dramatic intervention in Central Falls, and her implicit and explicit support of PPSD's decisions to end several successful high school reforms, that gap began growing.

While in 2012 CFSHS made back some of its lost ground, the PPSD 11th grade reading proficiency rate remained flat for the third year in a row, concurrent with intensive federal SIG interventions, Race to the Top, and numerous federal and state mandated changes in teacher hiring, evaluation and training.

The PPSD/RI gap in 11th grade reading proficiency is now at a five year high.

This is an Excellent Question

Grant Wiggins:

The question I have is – why does SES predict achievement so well – not just at the extremes, but all along the graph? The older I get, the less sense it makes. And the more it is clear that a glib single-cause explanation of it is unacceptable.

Or, shouldn't there be a point of diminishing returns?

2012 NECAP Quick Hits


  • ProJo's headline is correct: "RI test scores show scant improvement."
  • My headline number, PPSD 11th grade reading, is flat. Math is up a tick but that seems to be attributable mostly to Classical going up 14 points.
  • Central Falls high school has made up half of their losses in reading since their turnaround was announced in 2009, going up six points to 47% proficiency. Unfortunately this is accompanied by a conspicuous increase in "NT Other" students, meaning students who did not take the test for an approved reason: 23 out of 211 = 11% (it was 6% last year). For comparison, PPSD had 3% "NT Other." Of these, 56% were current LEP students, which otherwise passed the NECAP reading at at CFSHS rate of 3%, so you might want to take that increase with a grain of salt.
  • BVP continues to get good scores. The weird level of turnover at the middle school seems to have died down, or at least become invisible. As I've said all along, the question with the school is not so much "will they get good test scores," but what kind of school they'll evolve into. Again, it is unfortunate that RIMA has abandoned the urban/suburban mix that has apparently worked for BVP and do not want to apply it it Providence. Too bad they won't stand up for what they've found is best for kids.
  • In Providence elementary schools, (our) Reservoir took a hit in the younger grades but the older grades are still very strong, and the 5th grade writing scores -- which count for nothing -- are above the state average. Gregorian had a good year in reading, up 14%, which is good because we at least need our elite elementary school to look elite. Feinstein Broad Street continued to slide, unfortunately.
  • Schools that were heavily affected last year by PPSD closures, Asa Messer and MLK Elementary did not bounce back significantly.
  • The only SIG turnaround that seems to be getting any traction as reflected in the NECAP scores is Feinstein Sackett St., up 8% in reading and 2% in math. If that's the best, that's not good.
  • The PPSD "district charters" all had very good years. The independent charters generally treaded water or fell back a bit after all jumping in response to Deb Gist putting a cattle prod up their butt a few years ago.

The Power of Positive Thinking

The most amusing part of this year's NECAP scores is that they failed to meet a single one of the entirely unrealistic statewide goals Deborah Gist set upon her arrival.

The Beige Dictatorship

The reluctance for Rhode Island to help out Providence financially is a perfect example of what Charlie Stross today calls "the Beige Dictatorship:"

It's obviously subtle — we haven't been on the receiving end of a bunch of jack-booted fascists or their communist equivalents organizing putsches. But we've somehow slid into a developed-world global-scale quasi-police state, with drone strikes and extraordinary rendition and unquestioned but insane austerity policies being rammed down our throats, government services being outsourced, peaceful protesters being pepper-sprayed, tased, or even killed, police spying on political dissidents becoming normal, and so on. What's happening?

There is no plausible scenario by which the Rhode Island economy recovers without a strong Providence. The source of our current $5-10 million projected deficit isn't hard to figure out, according to Bryan Principe:

The $4-$5 million request is only about a quarter of the more than $20 million cut in state aid Providence taxpayers absorbed when the state cut the auto excise reimbursement to every city and town in 2010

On the other hand, of course, this isn't really a new problem. As Paul Goodman pointed out fifty years ago, we run this country "like a conquered province."

Thursday, February 07, 2013

My Complaint, Dropped Off Today

Ms. Deborah A. Gist
Commissioner of Education
Rhode Island Department of Education
255 Westminster Street
Providence, RI 02903

Dear Commissioner Gist,

I am a resident of Providence and the parent of two daughters, aged six and three.  My elder daughter is an applicant to the first grade class in Achivement First Providence Mayoral Academy (AFPMA), and my younger daughter will be eligible to apply for next year's kindergarten class.

I am writing to request a hearing concerning the conduct of AFPMA's upcoming admissions lottery, specifically its compliance with R.I.G.L. 16-77.4-1.(a), which has in the past been interpreted and implemented as a requirement that an equal number of enrollments be offered to students from each city or town.

Based on the regulations posted to the RIDE website, RIDE has not created any regulations addressing the specific enrollment requirements of mayoral academies.  As of December 16, 2011, then-Chief Transformation Officer Jennifer Smith indicated via email that RIDE did not have a legal opinion about the interpretation of R.I.G.L. 16-77.4-1. If that has been clarified internally by RIDE since then, I am not aware of it.

In the meantime, I have been offered no alternative interpretation of R.I.G.L. 16-77.4-1. that takes into account its specific syntax and the intent of the mayoral academy concept.

I contacted AFPMA Director of Operations Benjamin Smith on January 15, 2013 seeking a precise description and explanation of their planned enrollment process, on which their charter application provided little detail.  On January 23, after further prompting, Mr. Smith would only offer :

To your question about lottery process – we continue to work with RIDE to ensure that our lottery is consistent with both our approved charter application and state charter law. We do plan to weight applications with the goal of enrolling low-income students in numbers representative of our host districts.

The January 31 agenda of the AFPMA Board of Directors did not offer an opportunity for public comment.  I expressed my concerns on this matter to the Chair of the Board, Mayor Angel Taveras, Mr. Smith and the Mayor's Senior Advisor on Education, Angela Romans, but received no response from any.  The next AFPMA Board of Director's meeting is scheduled for March 28, well after the planned AFPMA enrollment lottery selection date of March 1.

I did meet face to face with Mr. Smith on February 6th at a AFPMA information session, where he confirmed that AFPMA does not intend to offer an equal number of enrollments to students from each participating city or town.  He also made clear that the AFPMA would not consider changing their policy at this point.

An incorrectly conducted lottery may harm my daughters in this or future school years by lessening their probability of selection for AFPMA.  It definitely will harm many children every time the lottery is conducted, although exactly which would depend on the makeup of the application pool.

Regarding the hearing itself, I have all the information I need and can proceed as quickly as possible.  It obviously would be best to resolve this prior to the lottery selection itself, and if the matter cannot be resolved before the scheduled lottery date, I would ask that RIDE request a delay in the process pending a decision.

I would also note that compliance with R.I.G.L. 16-77.4-1. (a) would not require any changes in AFPMA's enrollment or lottery process, including weighting for students from low-income census tracts, except for conducting lotteries for each city separately as needed.


Thomas E. Hoffman

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Mayor Taveras' School for the Poor

I wemt to the AFPMA information session today. There wasn't really a presentation, just some information and people from AF to talk to, so I got the low-down on the lottery from Ben Smith, the school's director of operations. Their plan is for the lottery to be weighted by census tract, with the lowest-income tracts getting 5 "tickets" for each applying student, the next lowest tracts get 3 "tickets" and everyone else gets one. Thus if you're applying from one neighborhood, your name goes in the bin five times, from another, only once.

This is the opposite of the original intent of the mayoral academy concept, which intended to create diverse, mixed income (and otherwise) schools. RIMA has apparently given up on replicating that model.

The law calls in one place for policies that "encourage the enrollment of a diverse student population" but in another for "special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as educationally disadvantaged and at-risk," so legally it is kind of a wash.

If one steps back though, it is remarkable we've come to this. A School for the Poor of the Cities of Providence, Warwick, Cranston, and North Providence. Finally the suburban poor have an opportunity to be bussed into the city to experience an education amid concentrated urban poverty.

I'm certainly curious to see what numbers they come up with if their current lottery system holds up. The other PVD charters are over 75% low income without any weighting or inclusion in PPSD enrollment forms.

Late Night

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

What's the Appropriate Low-Income Target for AFPMA?

Public Impact's original mayoral academy white paper (2008):

Create a different student makeup provision for Mayoral Academies. Under current law, charter schools in RI must enroll a student body that has at least as high a combined percentage of students with low incomes, limited English proficiency, and disabilities as the host district. This provision does not mesh well with the Mayoral Academy concept, because the schools by definition enroll students from multiple districts, including distressed urban districts. Comparing their enrollment to that of the “host” district, then, makes little sense. Instead, Mayoral Academies should be required (and allowed) to construct their lotteries in order to achieve a mix of distressed urban and other students as a condition of retaining the exemptions and hold harmless provisions described in the following two bullets.

So, what should the Achievement First Providence Mayoral Academy be shooting for?

Here's the breakdown of the sending districts free and reduced lunch eligibility from the NCES Common Core in 2010-2011:

  • Providence: 82%
  • Cranston: 37%
  • North Providence: 33%
  • Warwick: 31%

The average of the four was 46%. The overall rate for the aggregate student population was 57%. For reference, Vartan Gregorian's (College Hill neighborhood) FRL rate was 46%; Classical's (magnet high) was 60%. Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy was 63%, too, so this is all perfectly in line with the way the designers of the mayoral academy concept have chosen to implement it.

Right now it is not looking likely that AFPMA will attract the mix of students intended by the mayoral academy's vision of diverse regional schools. We'll see. It isn't exactly easy to create a mixed income school in Providence. Paul Cuffee and Times2 charter schools in Providence were 76% low-income, Highlander's was 78%, and middle and upper class parents apply to them. It might have helped to schedule a single meeting in one of the participating suburban communities.

Monday, February 04, 2013

This Seems Inevitable

Mike Caulfield:

What’s happening right now is that xMOOCs are moving backwards into replicable content from the interaction and assessment pole while textbooks are are moving forward into interaction and assessment from the replicable content pole.

The end result of this is not necessarily massive classes. It’s broadly used courseware — software that provides much of the skeleton of standard classes the way publisher texts do today. In other words, the best way to think of a MOOC isn’t really as a class brought to your doorstep — it’s more a textbook with ambitions.